PAHALGAM, India (Reuters) – India is hailing a Hindu pilgrimage to a holy cave excessive within the snow-capped mountains of contested Kashmir for instance of communal concord, in a area the place the Muslim-majority inhabitants is overwhelmingly hostile to its rule.
Hindu pilgrims trek by mountains to achieve the holy Amarnath cave shrine, the place they worship an ice stalagmite that Hindus imagine to be the image of Lord Shiva, close to Pahalgam within the Kashmir area, July 27, 2019. REUTERS/Alasdair Pal
India and arch-rival Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir, and got here near a 3rd in February after a suicide-bomb assault by Pakistan-based militants on Indian paramilitary police close to the pilgrimage route.
India’s Hindu-nationalist authorities led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made “pilgrimage tourism” a spotlight, spending large sums on January’s Kumbh Mela pageant, the place greater than 100 million Indians got here to wash within the holy Ganges river.
For the Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage within the Pahalgam space, the Jammu and Kashmir state authorities has spent a file $72 million on preparations for the six-week occasion that started on July 1.
“It’s a excellent instance of non secular concord,” mentioned Anup Kumar Soni, extra chief government of the Amarnath Ji Shrine Board, which organizes the pilgrimage.
Amarnath Cave, lined by snow virtually all 12 months spherical, incorporates an ice stalagmite that’s thought of a bodily manifestation of Lord Shiva, a Hindu god.
Saffron-clad Hindu ascetics, some barefoot and with photographs of the cave round their necks, trudge the 46 km (28 mile) path to the cave throughout glaciers and waterlogged trails.
Muslim Kashmiri villagers in lengthy woolen coats clear the best way of snow and ice, and hundreds of Indian troops are deployed to protect in opposition to assaults by Muslim militant teams.
The route is arduous. One in 4 of the 300,000 pilgrims who’ve visited this 12 months have required medical therapy, and 24 have died, primarily from coronary heart assaults and hypertension, in accordance with authorities statistics.
Whereas hundreds of Kashmiris work to clear the trail, hundreds extra lease ponies and palanquins to the pilgrims, and tents for them to sleep in.
“Everyone seems to be all the time pleasant, there isn’t any hostility right here,” mentioned a Hindu pilgrim who give his identify as Abhhinav, climbing up a steep observe in driving rain to one of many passes on the route that reaches almost four,500 meters (15,000 toes) in locations.
The pilgrimage has been attacked repeatedly by militant teams – the final time in 2017 when eight pilgrims had been killed in an ambush.
This 12 months, the federal government has arrange a bar-coding system, permitting solely registered individuals onto the path.
Separatists in Muslim-majority Kashmir have been campaigning in opposition to the federal government of Hindu-majority India for years, together with a marketing campaign of violence by militants, and an Indian safety pressure response that Kashmiris typically condemn as heavy handed.
The difficulty has badly affected the area’s farming and tourism industries.
In Pahalgam, the pilgrimage presents a lifeline for a lot of households.
“There is no such thing as a non-public sector right here, and so educated youth and lots of different Kashmiris are relying on the Yatra,” mentioned Firoz Ahmed Wani, a historical past graduate and part-time tutor renting out two tents to pilgrims paying 200 rupees ($2.90) an evening, at a camp alongside the route.
“We’re extraordinary individuals. The battle is one thing for the politicians to determine.”
Reporting by Alasdair Pal in PAHALGAM; Enhancing by Sanjeev Miglani, Robert Birsel